THE RURAL LIFE (COLUMN) — Jody and Dan Spark write about life on a small acreage at McLure.
By JODY SPARK
It was a story I heard told in my family a number of times. I grew up with it and I never forgot it. It went something like this:
My grandmother observed how her mother always cut the ends off her roast before placing it in the roasting pan and sliding it into the oven. Thinking this is how you prepare a roast, she also cut the ends off her roast before cooking it and taught her daughter to do likewise.
One day my aunt, seeing the waste, questioned why the ends of the roast were trimmed. Her mother simply answered, “Because that is how you cook a roast.”
Fortunately, my aunt was a curious person, and asked her grandmother when she came to Canada to visit why one needs to cut the ends off a roast.
My great-grandmother rang out a laugh and declared in her singing British accent that her oven was so tiny she had to use a very small roasting pan. The roasts were always too big to fit in the pan, so she trimmed the edges.
I relayed the story to Dan, saying it was an appropriate lead-in to my column. He raised one eyebrow in journalistic suspicion and asked me if I was sure this really happened to my family.
“Yes.” I was adamant. “I heard the story many times when I was young.”
Well, turns out, his suspicion was correct. The Internet repeats the urban legend, which has been told with variations in many cultures, but the moral of the story is the same: Don’t do things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done.
I heard it told as a parable, but a child’s memory skewed it into family experience. Yet this is the lesson I’ll remember: There may have been very good reasons for what was done in the past, but that reason may not exist anymore. Always question why something is done. And this can have particular application in hobby farming.
Often, traditional methods are tried, tested and true. Wisdom from the ages should not be forgotten.
That being said, we should still question, and I found that to be true at goat kidding time.
We were kidding so we could milk our does again, but there is the perennial problem of how to feed the kids. You want the milk, but so do the kids. Some let the kids nurse for a couple of weeks and then transition to bottle feeding, which requires milking by hand, putting it in a bottle, then feeding the kids. Others will separate from the mother right after birth and then bottle feed. Either way, bottle feeding requires separation from the mother to prevent nursing.
I had a problem with both options. I didn’t like the separation, and bottle feeding seemed time consuming, unnatural and unnecessary. I couldn’t bear the mournful bleating of kids away from their mother, even if they were in side-by-side pens, and I know how important it is to nurse directly from the mother. How could I minimize separation, feed the kid, and get milk for us?
I came up with a plan. Let the kids alone with mother for the first two weeks so they get all the milk they need, mother’s attention, and learn social skills in the herd. In two weeks after their nighttime feed, I put the kids together in a stall in the barn where they can see and hear their moms to prevent night feeds. Bright and early, I milk the does when their udders are full, then let out the babies to be with the moms. Even though I milked the moms “dry” there was always enough for the babies’ breakfast.
I accepted that for a time, I could only do one milking a day to share with the kids. Gradually, however, as the kids grew and began to eat more grass and drink more water, I covered mom’s teats with athletic tape to prevent constant nursing. The tape stuck well even over hair, and though the kids couldn’t remove it, I could easily. I transitioned to two milkings a day, putting the tape on in between, and gradually weaned the kids.
Maybe there was a little less milk in the beginning but there was no stress, no complete separation, no bottle-feeding. The wonders of athletic tape. Our ancestors didn’t have it, but we have it now.
Sometimes we should follow lessons passed down, other times we should not. In this case, I decided it was time to stop cutting off the ends of the roast.
Dan and Jody Spark are in their fourth year of living their back-to-the-land dream and they are having the time of their life.